Long term layovers, those spanning 6 hours or more, used to irk many travelers. Nobody wants to spend valuable hard earned time off at a stand still in some foreign airport for several hours. Now, many cities airports that have regular long-term layovers are offering travelers the opportunity to explore in transit. Doha, Qatar is one such city and is the perfect city to do some exploration. When I tried to use my American Airlines air miles on a flight to India, I quickly realized it was a waste of time. Not only are they undervaluing their miles and service, but they’re also increasing the price to spend those miles. Frustrated, I turned to Google Flights and found that Qatar Airways was offering well-priced flights with long layovers. My friend Tanj, from Wandering Hearts: A Travelogue by Brock and Tanj, used to be an air hostess on this airline and quickly convinced me that this was a great option. It would also be my first time in the Middle East. This post is your guide on how to do a long layover in Doha, Qatar.
How to Book a Layover on Qatar Airways
Booking an extended layover on Qatar Airways is very easy. Just find the flight and book it! My advice is to check your terms and conditions, however, because the airline does not allow you to book a layover in both directions, and certain destinations are not accepted. After you’ve booked it you have two options: pay for the required transit visa in advance (which I did), or pay for it on arrival. Again, you will need to check the visa requirements for your passport. Once you’ve passed immigration, make sure you exchange money before you head to the left of the arrivals hall towards the taxi services. Taxis in Doha do not accept credit cards, and you need to pay in cash. The blueish green taxis are the official taxis in Doha and are super clean, safe and reliable.
What to Pack for a Layover in Doha, Qatar
You will not be able to get checked luggage for your layover. Make sure you pack a backpack or overnight bag with a change of clothes or whatever else you need for your layover. I had a spare set of clothes, my medicines, and small toiletries that I needed.
What to Do in 24 Hours in Doha, Qatar
It is easy to see and do a lot in Doha for 24 hours. Taxis are relatively easy, and many of the attractions like the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif (typical Middle Eastern market), and the promenade along the Corniche are all within walking distance. You can explore all of the attractions mentioned below, but it's dependent on the depth of time you want to see each site. As for me, I tend to take my time, and I was on the tail end of an overwhelming trip to India, so I was rather exhausted by the time I touched down in Doha. I didn’t get a chance to do all of these things, but you could squeeze them in if you wanted to.
Wander Around the Museum of Islamic Art
The museum is completely free to visit and located along the Corniche. Check the hours before traveling as they change on different days (Note: The weekends in the Middle East is Friday and Saturday). There’s also free and fast wifi which is another bonus for travelers on an extended layover. The five-story museum boasts a great juxtaposition in its modern architecture while housing thousands of years of Islamic art from three different continents. The various exhibitions include metal work, ceramic, textiles, and manuscripts from countries such as Iran, Egypt, India, Turkey, Iraq, and Asia. I’ve been to plenty of museums around the world, and the exhibits housed in this one are exquisite. Considering the museum is free, it is well worth the visit. Even if there were a charge, I would still recommend you visit this spot.
Walk Along the Corniche
The Corniche is a seven-mile stretch along the Doha Bay, extending from the north of the city with its various skyscrapers to the south where the Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif are. The waterfront promenade is particularly busy along the southern end where many of the tourist sights of the city are but offers beautiful views of the bay.
Hop on Board a Dhow Boat
The dhow boats are traditional Arab fishing boats used for fishing, cruising and working. Most of them are moored along the Doha Port area along Al Corniche Street. In the afternoon, tourists can board them for a cruise. The captains of the boats decorate them with lights and sound systems to entertain their guests with fun music for the journey. They are super loud and noisy but look like a lot of fun.
Visit Souq Waqif
Souq Waqif is a traditional market in Doha that has been used for centuries by the Bedouins. The nomads who have inhabited the Arabian and Syrian deserts visited this market to trade wool and animals for daily items. In 2004, the souq was restored to traditional Qatari architectural standards to preserve the crumbling old market and is one of the only traditional souq left in the Gulf. The souq is a fabulous place to explore, from restaurants and cafes, the market sells trinkets, woodwork, fabrics, spices, food and even animals. It is truly a maze in many parts of this area, but that is what makes it fun. I would suggest eating here too, as there are plenty of restaurants and cafes serving a variety of food. You can even stop at one of the restaurants to smoke a shisha (hookah, or hubbly - as we call it in South Africa). The actual marketplace is closed from noon until 4 pm, so plan accordingly.
Explore the Pearl
The Pearl is an artificially constructed island in Doha that boasts luxury dining, hotels, residential areas, shopping and yacht marinas. While I did not visit here, it is a popular attraction and highlighted as a luxury destination in Doha.
Katara Cultural Village
The Katara Cultural Village was built to represent Qatari culture and has numerous theaters and exhibits for people to explore. While I didn’t have a chance to visit here, I have been told it is well worth the visit. There is another souq, more restaurants, theaters and a beach.
Where to Eat in Doha, Qatar
Many hotels in Doha have restaurants attached, but the best spot you could go to eat is Souq Waqif. There are numerous restaurants there, all of the top quality. The souq offers traditional Qatari food, Mediterranean, Lebanese, Yemeni, Iraqi, Syrian, Moroccan and Indian food to name a few cuisines.
Try to eat Arabic mezze and shawarma in your visit. Arabic mezze is a cold or hot appetizer like Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Tabouleh, Falafel, etc. Shawarma is the Middle East's version of a burrito, made of thin Arabic toasted bread, meat (chicken, beef or lamb), and garlic sauce.
Where to Stay on Your Layover in Doha, Qatar
It's advisable to stay at a hotel within walking distance of the Corniche, particularly by Souq Waqif or the Museum of Islamic Art if you are following my guide. Many of the hotels in the area are pretty affordable, and all of them have excellent service and staff. I stayed at the Saraya Corniche Hotel and it was lovely!
You Should Book a Long Layover in Doha, Qatar
And there you have it - the best things to see and do in your 24 hours in the Pearl of the Middle East. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this expat city and it was a good starting point for my first time in the Middle East. The Museum of Islamic Art has given me extreme bouts of wanderlust to travel to countries like Iran and Turkey, and Souq Waqif stirs my longing to buy beautiful lamps and spices in the markets across the rest of the region. The only aspect that bothered me about my short stay in Doha was the lack of women around. While the main avenue in the Souq had many women and children, the rest of the time I spent in Doha, I felt that as a female I stuck out like a sore thumb. Truthfully, I believe that Doha is very safe, but I did feel uncomfortable walking around on my own at night in the city. My friends who have lived there agree that it is safe, but I guess after two weeks in India, I was just over having to look after myself and I longed to get back to my comfort zone. There were just so many men walking around, and I felt like I was stared at wherever I was in a public space. The people in the souq and the restaurants were friendly and hospitable, but outside of that, I felt slightly uncomfortable on my own. Please don't let this deter you as a single female traveler - make sure you keep your wits about you, as you would exploring a city in the world on your own. Doha is an exciting city, and I loved my short stay in Qatar. Kudos must be given to the country, and Qatar Airways for the way they have set everything up to make is so easy to visit in such a short span of time.
Have you ever done a long layover in another country or town before? Have you visited Qatar or any other countries in the Middle East? What would you do on a long layover in Qatar?
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